The following article is not a piece of original research. Rather, it might best be termed a ‘discussion paper’, an attempt to draw together in brief compass the state of knowledge (as I myself understand it) on the long-distance domestic trade of China on the eve of the first dramatic confrontations with the expansionist, early industrial West. It does not treat the expanding overseas trade of the same period, but rather seeks to provide a context for the better understanding of that important phenomenon. I intend here to look briefly in turn at the long-term development of China’s domestic trade, the content of the trade, management of the trade, and imperial policies toward the trade. I will confine myself to trade per se, not venturing significantly into the thorny area of handicraft processing and manufacture, an area in which Chinese scholars have found for this period great implications for the emergence of ‘sprouts’ of an indigenous Chinese capitalist mode of production (zibenzhuyi mengya).1